THE race series for you racing Midget or Sprite

Race Report for Le Mans 2000

As usual, click on any picture for a blow up

Hello FISC fans, Thanks for taking the time to read this. As usual I took part in the race so the report is more of an in car view of the race/practices.

This is the first time FISC have raced at Le Mans. And I think I speak for most of us when I say I hope it's not the last. I arrived on Friday morning having driven through some of the worst rain & thunder/lightening that I have seen. After successfully driving some 9 hours I got lost in the town Le Mans itself & ended up driving down the Mulsanne straight in my van with a trailer on it. Eventually I found the circuit entrance & got in.

It was a pleasant surprise to see how much paddock room we had. A large, flat & tarmacked area. We would need it we were expecting some 30 race cars.

FISC Tents at Le Mans
The Spridget Cafe at Le Mans

The Spridget Cafe was already in place & I could see various drivers & teams enjoying a drink & chat. Scrutineering was quickly dealt with ( fog light works ? OK, you can race - I didn't even have to open the bonnet) & I signed on for a 30 minute practice in the afternoon. 7.50 (750 Ff) for a 30 minute practice session. That is value for money !

The first practice was under damp conditions. I had a new halfshaft, new front wheel bearings, New (scrubbed) tyres & a new (larger petrol tank). I was on a new circuit, it was damp & I had slept less than 4 hours the night before. Those who know me know what is coming !!! I drive out of the pits, up the hill toward the world famous chicane before the Dunlop Bridge & ( You guessed it ) I SLOD off in to the gravel. Right up the the rear axle. I could claim I was testing the safety features of the track , but no the plain truth is I was was driving like a wally. It took the marshals about 5 mins to decide to do anything & only after 2 Caterham/ Lotus 7's nearly hit me ( there were waved yellows !) did they decide to pull me out of the gravel.

I drove off the race line , weaved a lot & braked to clear as much gravel as possible from the car, then I did some "exploratory" laps. I think I saw about another 5 cars in the gravel. I may have been the first in but I wasn't the only one! I won't embarass the other drivers by mentioning them (the page isn't long enough anyway !), But Michael Harder does deserve a mention. He'd SLOD off on a double apexed right hander & was deeply in the gravel, a few centimetres behind him was a Porsche 911. I thought to myself, "I bet Michael's happy, He's spent a lot of time on that car over the winter & it would be a shame if someone else smashed it up for him". I was completely wrong ! The Porsche was there first ! Michael lost it & SLOD it around the back of the Porsche. I have no idea how he did that, but eye witnesses say it was a miracle.

The more eagle-eyed of you will have noticed at least 3 "typos". I have used the word "SLOD" & surely mean "Slid"? Nope. I mean SLOD. I'll explain, I did not SPIN all weekend. I was in the gravel at least 5 times. I was pulled out once ( see above) & the other times could drive out/through. For me a SPIN is when the car rotates by more than 90 i.e. involves going backwards. A SLIDE is normal in a Spridget, thats how they get round corners ! I need something between. SLOD = Sudden Loss Of Direction. ( I will expand more on this subject later ).

The practice session was sold out, But Mark Dols was determined to practice. He went to scrutineering (Last pit in the pit lane) got the OK, then donned his helmet & drove out on to the pit lane & thus onto the track. Nice one Mark ! Stefan Devoucoux was supposed to come in part way through the practice & let Antonio Bertini drive a lap or 2. He ( As I believe Jean Alesi does ) ignored all pit signals & stayed on the track.

The rest of Friday was spent cleaning out the gravel from the cars. The paddock area was beginning the resemble Scarborough beach

Spa start
Collecting area before the start

On Saturday we had 1 practice session from 08:45 till 09:15. the best lap time in the the 1st 15 mins determined your grid position for the 1st race & the 2nd 15 mins was for the 2nd race. We all got up early on Saturday & were amazed to find blue skies & the promise of a lovely day. Everyone swapped to "dry" tyres - We run control tyres so basically you have tyres with some profile (wets) & tyres without (dry). Everyone assembled at the collection area. Nicholas Rose had arrived late in the night & hadn't yet been to scrutineering so it was agreed he could qualify & the scruntineering would take place afterwards. Practice went as usual. Some drivers treat it like a race & drive round together, I look for some "quiet" track & try to set a fast time. I was still thinking of the day before & it took me a while to get up to a quick lap. My quickest lap in the 1st session was good enough for 4 place on the grid & the 2nd session , though nearly 1 second quicker was only good enough for 8th. Still from 27 cars that's OK in my books.

Other practice results were pretty much as expected with a few exceptions. Ian Burgin. Ian only has 1000cc. He drives the only car regularly running in this class this year. He qualified in 3rd place for the 1st race. I have no idea how much power his car developes but when you consider that everyone else is driving with close to 400c more than him, this is a remarkable acheivement. He has no weight limit & no rev limiter. His best time of the weekend was only 0.6 seconds off the (new) FISC lap record. "Front-Row" Faux had a migrane & didn't look too good before practice & was well down. Pieter Bakker has really improved for this year & is a regular top 5 runner now. Antonio Bertini, who has maximum points but could only qualify in 23 & 27th. It turns out Antonios distributor had disintegrated & the car was running about as quick as a motorized skateboard. And Jean-Michel Guermonprez in only his 3rd FISC weekend had qualified in Pole for the 1st race. He narrowly missed setting quickest FISC lap at Le Mans by 0.3 secs. It turns out Jean-Michel has previously won a couple of GTP races. Closer inspection of the Qualifying times showed that the top 6 cars in the 1st session & the top 5 in the 2nd session had all qualified within a second of each other. That's close !

I also noticed that for the 1st race the first 6 cars are all running "open" i.e. no screen & no roof. Is there an aerodynamic advantage ?? I think so !

Allez Papa
Stephane Chassiang & his daughters message

The rest of the day was spent cleaning the cars ( No gravel this time !) & preparing for the races. Stephane Chassaing had a good luck message from his daughter , Garance, & taped it to the inside of his door. Some minor mechanical repairs for most of us & a free day. Most of us visited the museum & some people went into town. Mark Dols had brought a video camera & taped the on track action from his car & we all watched the tape. I think I will start a new paragraph for Mark here.

I reckon Mark Dols is not a builder as he claims. He must be a rocket scientist. Look at the facts, he starts off the weekend looking like a normal guy. But by the end of the weekend he has a mad proffesor hair cut. He is the only person I know who can repair his car using only a compressor & his T-shirt. & as Dave O'Neill so nicely put it, his aim in life is to test the limits of adhesion. And that he did ! I got dizzy just watching the video. I would also like to thank Mark for helping me with the word SLOD. I needed a nickname for him & starting playing with letters in my head. Just "Spin" (Ha Ha) the letters of his surname round & there you have it
To even the balance here I must point out that Mark had qualified in the top 10 for both races. When he can keep the car going in the right direction he's quick !

Spa start
lining up behind the Pace car at Le Mans

Sunday morning brought another surprise. RAIN ! again. & lots of it ! Everyone ( with the exception of the MAD DOG racing team - Shannon, Bilsland & Hope) swapped to "Wets". ( How did you pick that name MAD DOG ???).

Mad Dog team sign
The sign says it all !

Mark Dols proved to everyone how slippy it was by spinning on the warm up lap whilst following the pace car. He had regained his rightful start position before we reached the start line though. The race was a rolling start & I'm very pleased to say everyone got through the chicane - Nice driving boys - & the race was underway. It started to rain heavily during the race and it seemed like everyone was spinning of everywhere. There were so many I couldn't keep track. Ian Whitt climbed from 26th place to finish 7th & claimed "The only line I could find with grip involved driving on the grass". He did as well, I saw it. Antonio climbed from 23rd to 6th. he had the quickest race lap by some nearly 2 seconds over the next car ! Ian Hullet, having qualified in 5th just couldn't get his car round the bends & finished a lowly 15th. The climax to the race must have been brilliant. Apparently both John "Front-Row" Faux & Dave Shannon (in that order) rounded that last bend almost together. John span (more than 90) but Dave only SLOD. He SLOD into John who was going backwards at this time, which straightened up Daves car & he crossed the line some 3 secs ahead of John, who had to recover from the spin. This was deemed to be a racing accident since both drivers involved agreed it was not deliberate and no "yellow cards" were issued. Rupert Douglas-Pennant crossed the line in 3rd place. Everyone finished the race except for Stephane Chassaing who had blown his head gasket, Stephane Devoucoux who had broken his rotor arm & effectively had no ignition, & Mark Hope who had managed to get his gearbox stuck in 2nd gear. A remarkable acheivement given the conditions & closeness of the racing.

Winners of Race 1
Race 1 Winners. L-t-R John Faux, Dave Shannon, Rupert Douglas-Pennant

We had some 4 hours between races & most cars were worked on. John Faux needed a new steering rack, brake disk & a set of wheels (the one involved in the impact was damaged). Dave Shannons car was too badly damaged to safely race. The boot floor & spring hanger were badly bent, and with maximum points for the weekend & no chance of better weather, a wise decision I feel. Mark Hope borrowed a gearbox, which was installed. When He tested it, it got stuck in 1st gear. I reckon you should fill your boxes with oil & not Locktite Mark ! The gear was freed & Mark started & drove the 2nd race without 1st gear. It turns out that both Steve Chapman & Antonio had lost their wiper blades during the race & I know that Michael Harders wipers don't work at all.

A new gearbox for Mark Hope
Installing Mark Hopes new box

At this point I would like to thank the Catering crew. This was my "Volunteering" weekend. & I did it. I washed up a few times over the weekend. ( If my mum ever reads this - It was a horrible experience Mum, Something I never want to repeat again, I'm sure I have been scarred for life !) It has increased my respect for these guys immeasurabley. They are a great bunch of guys & I would like to take this chance to thank them publicly (yet again) & ask all FISC driver to read my suggestion on the Message board. Imagine if they weren't there. Just think about it, no warm food & drinks for the most of us. Yes you can buy chips etc but it's not in the same league as the marinated pork we had. Willem (Our Cook) told me he had had a restaurant for 25 years & we were getting the food he used to prepare in his restaurant. I can believe it & would gladly pay for it in a restaurant. This guy doesn't get paid & is basically doing his daily job over the weekend for nothing. Lets give them something back. - read the Message board.

The conditions for the second race were just as bad. Only 2 cars didn't start. Dave Shannon for reasons mentioned above and Michael Harder without any wipers at all & because he wanted to leave early, decided not to start. Again a rolling start & 25 Racing Spridgets all piled towards a very slippy chicane. In the dry I touch the rev limiter on the approach to the chicane ( about 120 MPH ), but in the wet it is slower & more scary. We all got through again. I rubbed door handles & mirrors with John Faux, but no damage done. Again there were so many spins & SLODs I lost track. After a few laps I looked at the Lap board on the start/finish straight to see there were still 7 laps left. 7 laps of this madness/fun. I was actually enjoying myself & my best lap time was nearly 9 seconds quicker than in the morning. It seemed like 30 minutes later I checked the board again there were still 4 laps left ! I come back to our rocket scientist, Mark Dols, I'm sure he has converted my racing car to a time machine. How can I have only driven for 9 minutes on the track but elapsed time in my head was about 30 mins. Thank you Mark.

At one stage I hit the rev limiter in 3rd gear, changed to 4th & suddenly the tyres gripped & I only had 4,000 rpm. This means I was spinning the wheels at 7,200 rpm in 3rd. It was slippy ! I felt like I was racing a boat or hovercraft. You could vaguely accelerate & approximately steer, but you had no brakes. I'm sure there were many, many Spins, SLODs & Slides. I nearly hit Mark Hope when I decided to try to brake & the car suddenly got quicker & went in a straight line. Luckily Mark saw this & left me some room. This got me thinking, I can't accelerate in a straight line using the gas pedal (every time I even thought of the gas pedal the back end stepped out), but if I press the brakes hard enough the car accelerates in a straight line. Now, I am no rocket scientist, but I know one ! I will ask Mark to investigate this one for us.

Mark Dols, Mark Hope & I were quite close coming into the last bend, when Mark Dols decided to conduct one last experiment & see how close he could get to the pit wall going backwards. He spun off & Mark Hope passed him for an extra place. I found myself urging Mark Dols to put it in reverse & out drag me across the line. Unfortunatley he took the more conventional route, turned his car round & drove across facing the right direction. Some other notable drives were from, Ian Whitt 25th to 8th, Antonio 23rd to 12th including being towed out of the gravel ! - This guy can spin quicker than I can drive ! James Bilsland 3rd FISC race weekend & 5th place in the worst conditions imaginable And Jean-Michel Guermonprez 14th to 4th. Rupert Douglas-Pennant won from John Faux only 1.7 seconds seperating them. Ian Hullet had done some mods to his car in the period between races & finished a very respectabe 3rd, recovering what looked like a lost weekend for him. With 2 exceptions, everyone finished. Steve Chapman decided to avoid Parc Ferme by ending his race early. His car was on the trailor & he was ready to go before we had our cars from Parc Ferme. Norman Sailer had had a spin & was so far down the field he decided to come in & save his car.

Race 2 Winners
Race 2 winners. L-t-R John Faux, Rupert Douglas-Pennant ,Ian Hullet

I then had a 9 hour drive home. Plenty of time to contemplate the weekend & plan for the next race in 2 weeks at the Nordschleife, Germany. This is the circuit closest to me (geographically) & a circuit for which I have an enormous amount of respect. I have a video of a lap of this circuit which takes 13 minutes & 30 seconds. I drove it in 11:11 last year. I will bring a video recorder, TV & the video to the next meeting so we can all watch it. For those of you bringing partners, you might not want them to watch it. It is very quick & we are even quicker !! I believe one of the teams has a video of them driving the race last year, Maybe they can bring their video & we can see a sub 11 minute Spridget lap. Also a quick tip. Rupert has just taken part in a 24 hour race there. He knows the track. Just follow him (If you can !)

John Faux's bent Midget
John Faux's bent Midget

See you in Germany.